The pace of training and logistics accelerated during the past few weeks as I finished up a successful training camp in Brest, France, and shipped my rig back across the English Channel to Weymouth in preparation for Sail for Gold, our first Olympic Trials regatta. Training in Brest was highly productive and with the help of a very good French coach, filled in a number of gaps in my knowledge and gave me insight into another very successful sailing program.
The French have one of the most advanced sailing programs on the planet. In Brest, sailing is taught to most residents at a young age, and is integral to the culture, which could go as far back to over hundreds of years. On top of that, they are completely nuts about windsurfing, more so than any other country I've experienced. On any given windy day, you can see 50 recreational windsurfers bombing around, in Brest and its surrounding small villages. From this base, sailing is developed further at the club and national level under some very smart program directors and coaches (all with successful competitive careers). There are a good number of national training facilities, one of which is newly built in Brest. It's very difficult to rise to a level high enough to compete on the French National Team, and sailors competing at this level are extremely talented. Seeing the technically advanced level of their youth sailors gave me a very clear picture of the excellence of their training and coaching. The French have an advantage over almost every other country in the sport of sailing, and just keep pouring more resources into their program.
For all the advantages of the French system, they keep their methods and training guarded. Usually, outside sailors have to be careful not to overstep boundaries when training with their teams. We were not allowed to use their facility, and kept our equipment in our coach's shop. Training with the youth was acceptable as long as we didn't become too many, but I expect that it would be very difficult to secure an invitation to train with their national team. Other than those few rules, the sailors and coaches were happy to see us. It contrasted with my experience with the Polish, who are much more open about their training. However, as the Polish team becomes more prominent and professional with the addition of better resources, they are experiencing some growing pains and may become more closed. Both the French and Polish teams compete at a high level, and while I found the French may be better on a technical level, the Polish have a closer-knit team and support system, which is equally as important.
After sailing in Brest, I was ready for a short break before starting the final taper into the Weymouth Sail for Gold regatta. As with all breaks, time is filled with logistics and trying to accomplish all the things that need to be done off the water in a short time. The journey began with a ferry ride to Portsmouth, where my coach, Britt, and I stayed with a friend. We washed, unloaded and re-loaded equipment, and dropped the boat at the dealer's shop for a servicing. We inventoried items and went shopping, and tried to get some needed sleep. After a stop-and-go commute to Weymouth, (bank holidays!), we were ready to move in and get the equipment sorted.
All the time before Sail for Gold will be spent training lightly and acclimatizing to the conditions in Weymouth. So far we have seen a very windy week - almost 25 knots for days at a time. The weather is changing now, and we're not sure what will be in store for the regatta. I'm looking forward to the event, which should have a really tough fleet. Sail for Gold is the international peak event this season!